Hilltop Orchards & Furnace Brook Winery
“I don’t think there’s a better place in the world to grow apples than New England and in particular the Berkshires,” says John Vittori, co-owner of Hilltop Orchards and Furnace Brook Winery. Though they grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, Vittori and his sister Wendy always loved the Berkshires, and in 1987 they bought a 200-acre orchard with trees dating back to 1920. “At the time it was a real stretch because we had no agricultural background. But I always enjoyed a challenge, and I had a love of food. This site in Richmond, with the southern exposure, is perfect for growing apples, so we decided to build our business around all they can do for us.”
At one time, cider was the most popular drink in America. “There was a barrel of cider in every basement in Boston,” says Vittori. That is, until settlers started to push west, out of prime apple country, and into grain country. Though beer has for a long time now been the dominant American thirst-quencher, Vittori says that hard cider is currently the “fastest growing niche market in the beverage industry.” He is proud to have gotten in early, with Hilltop’s Johnny Mash cider, which they first marketed in 1995, and to have recently succeeded in forming a National Cider Association.
Right now, Vittori is most excited about Hilltop’s new “ice wine,” modeled on an apple wine made in Quebec. “We’ve finely tuned our process, where you remove the water from the fresh apple cider without any heat involved. You reduce the apple cider to a sweet apple nectar, and then ferment and age it. It produces this marvelous, delicious dessert wine that has been selling off the shelves like crazy.” Hilltop distributes their products locally to outlets such as the Red Lion Inn, Guido’s, Kripalu, Canyon Ranch, and Berkshire Organics.
But much of their business comes right to their door. The goal is to offer what Vittori calls “a tasty Berkshire experience” and to make Hilltop Orchards into a year-round destination. To that end, Hilltop Orchards and Furnace Brook Winery are nothing if not diversified. For one thing, they grow 27 varieties of apples, including Macintosh and Northern Spy for Johnny Mash, and Golden Russet for their French-style Cidre. But they also make apple-based and grape-based wines, cider donuts, apple scones, pies, and offer Full Moon Hikes, wine tasting, a cross-country skiing center, snow shoe rentals, autumn hayrides, apple picking and warming up by a roaring fire.
“We are always at the table trying to think of new ideas, of what more we can do to contribute to the local economy, preserve open space, and create great experiences for people.” Accepting BerkShares fits right in to that philosophy. “The whole idea of having a local currency that circulates through the businesses and customers that live in our region has a lot of interest for me, and I immediately wanted to be a part of it. We have customers that come in with BerkShares, we get paid in BerkShares by other businesses, and I pay other vendors with BerkShares. So it all goes around! It’s a great concept and I support it whole-heartedly.”
“We’re so proud to be a part of the Berkshire economy. I didn’t think 27 years ago that it would turn out this good. But we did indeed start our family farm here and I’ve brought up three kids here and it’s just been wonderful. It just keeps getting better.”